GREEN BAY, Wis. — No other uniform would fit Donald Driver.
The Green Bay Packers all-time leading receiver announced his retirement Thursday, with a public ceremony planned for Feb. 6 at the Lambeau Field Atrium.
“I played my entire career in Green Bay and have always enjoyed a special bond with the fans,” Driver said in a statement released by the Packers. “I can think of no better way to retire than to celebrate with them and the Packers organization.”
Later, on Twitter, Driver said, “It’s been an amazing journey, thank you for all of your love and support! (hash)Packer4Life”
Driver finishes his 14-year career as Green Bay’s all-time leader in yards receiving (10,137 yards), catches (743) and 1,000-yard seasons (seven), and is third behind Don Hutson and Sterling Sharpe with 61 touchdown receptions. He was part of the team that won the 2011 Super Bowl, and only Brett Favre played more games in a Packers uniform.
“All 14 years. Every day,” Driver said when asked for his favorite memory in an interview on ESPN’s “Mike &Mike.” “That’s a special place to walk out of, and that’s something I’ll never forget.”
Drafted by Green Bay in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, Driver became one of the most popular and prolific Packers. He had six straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2004-09, averaging 14 yards per catch during the stretch. He made at least one catch in 133 straight games from 2002 to 2010, another franchise record.
He’s one of only 18 wide receivers in NFL history with 700-plus career catches and 10,000 or more receiving yards in 200 games.
“It was a pleasure to share the field with you for 4 years! Great player, tremendous person. (hash)retire80,” offensive guard T.J. Lang said on Twitter.
It wasn’t just his performance on the field that made Driver one of the most beloved players in Packers history. Fans were charmed by his bright smile and infectious laugh, and moved by his story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. Growing up, Driver and his family were so poor that he, his mother and siblings sometimes spent the nights in a U-Haul. He and his brother stole cars to get money, and Driver sold drugs, too.
Driver never forgot that tough childhood, remaining active in the community throughout his career.
“His contribution to the history of the Green Bay Packers has been extraordinary,” Bart Starr said. “I am honored to congratulate him on all of his achievements on and off the field.”
Though Driver had said he hoped to play until he was 40 — he turns 38 on Saturday — his retirement was hardly a surprise. He had restructured the final year of his contract to come back this season, but played only a bit role in the offense with Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb ahead of him on the depth chart. Driver’s eight catches for 77 yards were his lowest totals since his rookie season, and he was inactive for four games, including the NFC wild-card, his final game at Lambeau Field.
“It’s always difficult, especially when you feel you can still play the game,” Driver said on “Mike &Mike.” “There’s other things out there. There’s the next chapter of your career and I’m ready for it.”
Driver had said after Green Bay lost to San Francisco in the NFC divisional round that he would talk to his family before making any decisions. While there were rumors Minnesota had some interest in him, Driver said this was the right choice for him and his family.
Driver and his wife, Bettina, have three kids.
“My wife said … she didn’t want to go anywhere else,” Driver told “Mike &Mike.” “Someone’s going to always tell my kids that their dad was a great football player. But no one will be able to tell my kids that their dad was a great dad and a great husband, so I have to be able to show them that. And that’s what the next chapter of my career is going to be.”